24.07.2009 32 °C
Months ago Ciarán, friend and delightful obscurantist, alerted me to an interesting upcoming event: a total solar eclipse. It would only be visible over a certain arc of Asia, a curve which happened to sit just a few hundred kilometres above Lishui.
Ahead of time we weren't even sure we would be in China on the day, but that all worked out and so on 22 July we were out on the balcony in our PJs buoyed by eclipse excitement.
Our frequently unseen neighbours, a mix of teachers of all ages and their kids, were out in force too.
These guys, not seen since they were watching us barbecue like they were seeing a bizarre exotic ritual, even had eclipse glasses for the occasion!
Another block over, meanwhile, a lady and her son had gotten hold of what looked like a piece of glass doused in black ink and were determinedly using it.
This Chinese girl, age unknown (they look the same from 11 to 35!) spent most of the time on either her house phone or mobile, and then went running off down the hill right in the middle of the eclipse for some reason.
As for ourselves, well I discovered you could look askance at the eclipse with two pairs of shades on without going blind. I realise this is not medically sound, but was a working solution for a lazy observer! We really only got the 85% version of what they had in the actual path of totality - the sun still had a tiny sliver of moon-like presence.
It still looked really cool - the campus was cloaked in semi-darkness of an unnatural kind, while the inside of the apartment was as dark as the middle of the night. Made me think of the eerie, tinted vision of U2's 'Last Night On Earth' video. Mere minutes later, the sun came back out and normal 30-plus scorching service resumed as if nothing untoward had occurred.
So it's at this point, as the eclipse fever starts to fade, that you start realise the hype behind an event like this is considerable. 'The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st Century', not to be outdone in anybody's lifetime we're told but only in the year 2132. You believe it without realising you're just being sold a different superlative each time.
Credit must go to BBC News for at least partially dispelling this myth: the next total solar eclipse is not an unreachable 123 years away, it's next summer. That's right, for two minutes or so on 11 July 2010, be in Argentina or be square. Until next time dear readers, consider that if the sun being blocked out is supposed to be the amazing part, why does anyone but the geekiest scientist care that it's a few minutes shorter?